The Francis Crick Institute
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The role of tumour heterogeneity and clonal cooperativity in metastasis, immune evasion and clinical outcome

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-08-17, 12:48 authored by Deborah R Caswell, Charles Swanton
BACKGROUND: The advent of rapid and inexpensive sequencing technology allows scientists to decipher heterogeneity within primary tumours, between primary and metastatic sites, and between metastases. Charting the evolutionary history of individual tumours has revealed drivers of tumour heterogeneity and highlighted its impact on therapeutic outcomes. DISCUSSION: Scientists are using improved sequencing technologies to characterise and address the challenge of tumour heterogeneity, which is a major cause of resistance to therapy and relapse. Heterogeneity may fuel metastasis through the selection of rare, aggressive, somatically altered cells. However, extreme levels of chromosomal instability, which contribute to intratumour heterogeneity, are associated with improved patient outcomes, suggesting a delicate balance between high and low levels of genome instability. CONCLUSIONS: We review evidence that intratumour heterogeneity influences tumour evolution, including metastasis, drug resistance, and the immune response. We discuss the prevalence of tumour heterogeneity, and how it can be initiated and sustained by external and internal forces. Understanding tumour evolution and metastasis could yield novel therapies that leverage the immune system to control emerging tumour neo-antigens.